by Chet Sellers
Remember last year when there were no preseason games because of the lockout, and everybody said, "oh no, everybody's going to be out of shape when the season starts and there's going to be a rash of injuries"? You know what's worse than that? A rash of injuries DURING THE PRESEASON. Last night the Senators iced a largely NHL-calibre lineup against the Hamilton Bulldogs and were rewarded with scary injury moments involving Bobby Ryan, Patrick Wiercioch, and Erik Karlsson, who are now chilling with Jason Spezza in a taped-off area of the dressing room marked "maintenance day" and filled with soft, fluffy pillows.
Tonight, we have the reverse scenario - the Senators have all of six NHL players in the lineup (and one of them is Matt Kassian), while the Canadiens will effectively start the entire roster they used against the Senators in last year's playoffs. So on paper, this looks like a pretty even matchup.
Seriously, though, tonight's Senators lineup. I'm relatively familiar with the Senators prospects system and I'm still pretty sure most of the guys in this game are actually cab drivers. "David Dziurzynski"? Pull the other one. I can't believe I skipped yoga to recap this.
Although there’s another, more solemn reason why we’re here tonight, and that’s to celebrate the Senators career of Jim O’Brien, who was placed on waivers earlier today. He may end up in Binghamton, he may end up in Edmonton, but he’s most likely playing his last game in an Ottawa Senators uniform tonight. If he is to be claimed by another NHL team, this game is his last chance to put on a show for the scouts, and the team has generously obliged him by lining him up with Curtis Lazar and Matt Kassian, an 18-year-old playing his first NHL game and the team’s heavyweight enforcer. That’s like asking someone to put together an IKEA cabinet but only giving them a spoon and a bag of gravel.
Lazar and O’Brien, beginnings and endings. If Lazar ever becomes a superstar I’d like to say I was there for his first game, cheering him on, but in truth I’m just sitting on my couch marvelling at how much he looks like the Coppertone baby.
The Sens come out a little flat to start the first period, with the “speed line” of Conacher, Zibanejad, and Hoffman demonstrating the speed at which they can turn the puck over and let the Habs pepper Craig Anderson with shots. Conacher makes it up about five minutes in, though, when he chips a dirty rebound into a wide corner of the net during a brief scrum to make it 1-0. This is the sort of goal Conacher dines out on, which may explain why Erik Condra struggles to maintain a healthy playing weight.
Conacher is wearing an “A” tonight. I like Conacher, but that’s like making the Secretary of Transportation the President because the 12 people ahead of him were all travelling on the same plane. Then he gets into it with P.K. Subban, and I start thinking about how you can’t spell Conacher without “C”.
Stephane Da Costa is not playing tonight, but I imagine Bryan Murray is still doing his best tonight to showcase Da Costa for a trade, perhaps wheeling him back and forth in front of visiting scouts on a large, rotating gold platform. Ever the salesman, Murray then says, "or, you can have . . . what's in the box!", gesturing theatrically to a large cardboard box with "BASEMENT STUFF" crossed out and "JIM O'BRIEN" written below it in magic marker.
Mid-way through the first, things get worse for Jim O’Brien when this year’s Norris runner-up P.K. Subban starts repeatedly cross-checking him in the general area of his spine. Come on, P.K. We’ve come to celebrate JOB, not cripple him. Subban goes off and is soon joined in the penalty box by David Desharnais, who high-sticks Mark Stone after Brendan Gallagher fails to bury a 2-on-0 breakaway during maybe the Habbiest moment possible. “Look at the box,” Desharnais says to Subban. “It doesn’t seem so lonely. We fill it up with only two.”
With two minutes to go, Alex Galchenyuk, the man voted league-wide as “least likely to be assumed to be a Wisconsinite”, evens it up against Craig Anderson, who’s largely played a solid game to this point despite not being bothered by an undisclosed injury that isn’t lingering at all. Anderson is showing off a new mask tonight that looks a little bit like Picasso’s Guernica, with Corvettes, wrapped around a man’s head. Unfortunately it’s less metal than it sounds.
FIRST PERIOD MVP – tie: Canada Dry club soda; Teacher’s blended scotch.
With a minute elapsed in the second period, and despite the game being played in Montreal, Josh Gorges goes off for another high sticking penalty. Montreal’s sticks have been so high in this game I feel like I’m at Burning Man.
There is some back-and-forth hockey for a while and I keep expecting RDS to cut away to a shot of O'Brien on the bench, muttering the lyrics to “Lose Yourself”. It’s only once we’re halfway through the second that it starts to register that Binghamton (heck, Elmira) is generally out-working and out-shooting the Habs, despite having only one NHL defenseman (Cowen) on the ice. After another five aimless minutes of missed shots, poked pucks, and stray passes, however, it’s clear the stakes have never been lower for the Habs.
As the second period winds down, Tomas Plekanec goes top corner on Craig Anderson from the right face-off circle and it’s 2-1 Habs. Anderson should have had it, but in his defense, you probably weren’t paying super-close attention either.
SECOND PERIOD MVP - half a bag of Nibs I found in the cupboard.
At some point the third period starts, but nobody really wants to take any shots so the pace of the game is best described as “free skate”. Even for a preseason game, it’s a little disappointing – there are guys playing tonight who should be doing everything they can to get noticed, like Hoffman, Stone, and Ceci, and then there’s Jim O’Brien, who should be out there in full Omar mode. Is this how you’re going out, Jim? All those goals are out there, waiting for you. TAKE THEM!
Halfway through the third Pacioretty makes it 3-1 Habs, and then Mark Borowiecki tries to fight Travis Moen only to have the ref horse-collar him to the ice and take Mark Stone down in the process. Stone has been drawing penalties all night, but this one might be a stretch. Later Matt Kassian drops Moen with about a punch and a half, making Kassian the second Senator to knock Moen out in five calendar months. So there’s that.
Despite some late chippiness, eventually the game ends and Habs fans shuffle out of the Bell Centre satisfied, their minds already on tomorrow morning’s meetings with their parole officers. The Senators will return home before their final preseason game on Sunday, which is actually two simultaneous preseason games, one of which is in Barrie. Against the Islanders. Sure, what the hell.
THIRD PERIOD MVP - Chet Sellers, for making it all the way to the end of this game. See you next time, folks! See you later, Jim!